Montreal offers visitors a captivating blend of old and new attractions
There are new sites for that
It’s been a big year for birthday candles in Montreal: Not only is the city celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary, but it also has its own founding 375 years ago to be grateful for. But it would be wrong to assume that age alone is what makes Montreal intriguing. The travelers who enjoy the city to the fullest look to what’s new as well as to the old.
This includes several attractions that were created just for the 375th anniversary but will stick around long after the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31. The most successful of these is Aura, a sound-and-light show set in the city’s most striking space: the Basilique de Notre-Dame. Over the course of this 30-minute spectacle, details of the NeoGothic church — its castle-like altar, delicately gilded columns and star-spangled ceiling — are picked out by surgically precise lighting or washed in projections that turn the church into a forest, engulfing it in a flood of Noah-like proportions. It may sound hokey, but the effect is magical, and it’s a testament to the architecture as much as to the show.
Less intriguing, but still worthwhile (especially if you have kids in tow), is Cite Memoire, a free app-based walking tour through Vieux Montreal (the oldest part of the city). It has two components: During the day, visitors can train their phones at certain historic buildings and learn about their history, sometimes even seeing recreations of what it would have looked like when it was first built.
After nightfall, visitors can use the app to display video projections on the walls, streets and even trees of the old city. These tell the stories of different figures throughout the history of Montreal - the city’s first executioner, a 1950s hockey player and the social revolutionaries of the 1960s.
The latter sounds exciting and is technologically impressive, but the creators don’t have the storytelling chops to bring these portraits to life. And unlike the daytime tour, which is the better of the two, the projections usually have nothing to do with the building they’re displayed upon.
Projections also are at the core of the nightly illuminations at the Jacques Cartier Bridge (titled “Living Connections”). It’s a pretty sight, and one that visitors can manipulate: Tweet the hashtag #Montreal on Twitter, and a shooting star will zoom across the bridge. If you look at the bridge’s website (http:// jacquescartierchamplain.ca), you’ll learn about the other ways the illuminations are affected (they include weather, wind direction, traffic and requests from watchers). With 365 colors to play with, the creators claim that every evening, a unique light show is presented.
Decidedly more low-tech, but just as exciting, is Montreal’s murals district. Every June, artists come from across the globe to leave their mark on the city during a two-week festival. While crowds watch (and bands play), they paint works of all sorts on walls across central Montreal. These stay up indefinitely, and after five years of festivals, there now are more than 80 vibrant murals across central Montreal, including a several-stories-high painting of local hero musician Leonard Cohen, a rendering of the Seven Deadly Sins in ice cream cones and a witty take on the “Mona Lisa.”
A twisted take on the Mona Lisa is just one of the many compelling murals in Montreal.